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Love of teaching brought Kitchings together

By Kay S. Pedrotti Billy Kitchings can trace his Lamar County ancestors back to 1814 but he’s loved his ‘Indiana girl’ Bonnie for more than 50 years. The two met in 1962 when both were teaching at Forest Park Junior High. They’ll celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary June 23. ‘We were such good friends and worked together so much that we were engaged before we dated,’ Bonnie says. Billy says, ‘You could say teaching was our dating.’ Bonnie grew up in Waynedale, Ind., in a family of two brothers and six sisters. Her grandfather was a veterinarian; she rode with him in his Model T to make farm calls. She cried once when he had to break a calf’s leg to accomplish a difficult birth. ’He sat me down and explained how it was,’ Bonnie says, ‘and I understood both the mother and the calf would probably have died without that action I thought was just terrible. He taught me a lot of about life.’ Her family was full of athletes and pranksters, Bonnie notes, ‘We never knew we were poor ‘“ there was a lot of laughter in our home but some good German discipline too.’ Three of her sisters, ages 80, 85 and 96, are still living. Bonnie attended Ball State Teachers College in Indiana then transferred to Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky., where she majored in home economics and had a minor in physical education. Contrary to advice from instructors ‘“ who told her she couldn’t ‘“ she took all her electives in Bible. She came to Georgia to work at the Methodist Board of Missions in Monroe County, where she served nine churches in north Georgia. When Bonnie began her teaching career, there was Billy. He had grown up on the family farm off Old Milner Road, graduating from Milner High School in 1950 when there were only 11 grades. ’I did a lot of chores on the farm,’ he says. ‘I also found I loved basketball. I took a nail barrel, removed the casing and used a croker sack for a net.’ Billy had four brothers and two sisters; the only one still living is Mary Frances Kitchings, 98, who makes her home with Bonnie and Billy. Their children Jeff and Pamela live in the area also; Jeff works with American Woodmart cabinets and Pam is a nurse at Spalding Regional Hospital. They have five grandchildren. ’I didn’t date a lot as I got grown,’ Billy said. ‘It’s like when I found Bonnie I knew I had found who I was looking for.’ Billy taught physical education and industrial arts. He attended Gordon Military and worked at Aldora Mill for a short time. Drafted into the Army in 1954, he served in the Panama Canal Zone. Eventually he graduated from Georgia Southern College with a degree in physical education. Later he earned a master’s in administration. Bonnie and Billy not only taught science together when Forest Park was short of science teachers, they coached sports at the same time. Bonnie was a basketball player too, even in adulthood. She remembers playing in a benefit game when Billy was officiating and ‘he called a foul on me for hipping ‘“ always before I’d get away with it.’ Bonnie’s home ec classes at one time involved both males and females: ‘That was something I didn’t see when I was growing up, that there were ‘˜boy roles’ and ‘˜girl roles.’ In the South I had to fight to get boys in my classes until I told the principal about a guy who was tall and thin and had to make his own clothes to get a fit, so he learned to sew and later made his daughter’s wedding dress.’ Both say what they miss most about teaching is that, ‘It used to be fun.’ On holidays or special occasions, classes and teachers would wear costumes, faculty could play jokes on each other and the kids learned to behave in an atmosphere of love and fun, says Bonnie. They talked about some inspirational students: the redoubtable Hines Ward, whom they both taught and have watched his football career through University of Georgia and the Pittsburgh Steelers; the two blind girls who competed in pole vault, shot put and track in the U.S. Special Olympics; and the student who became a hotel manager because Billy once said that’s what he’d do if he weren’t teaching. ’You never know when you may plant a seed a student will respond to,’ Billy says. ‘I’d tell teachers now not to forget to voice your love. Kids know when you mean it.’

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